Timing: Most Canadian universities and colleges operate on the two-semester system, with fall semester programs starting in September, and winter semester programs starting in January. Optional summer semesters may also be offered between May and August. Some institutions operate on a trimester system, so students can fast-track their degrees; in these cases the semesters are generally fall (Sept-Dec), winter (Jan-Apr) and spring (May-Aug).
However, while program start dates are similar, application deadlines vary greatly. Applications for fall courses are typically accepted between mid-December to the end of May. In the case of January admission, deadlines are usually from the preceding September to November. These deadlines may vary between institutions or even within an institution, according to the specific Faculty or program. For instance, quota or limited-enrolment programs--those with a limited number of available places--are highly competitive, and applications may be requested farther in advance than for other open-enrolment programs. Some colleges will accept applications all year round and accept students on a first-approved, first-admitted basis.
Application Categories: Institutions generally categorize their applicants. Applicants may be matriculated from high school, on transfer, or mature students; they may be from in-province, out-of-province, Aboriginal, international, home-schooled or those with high academic standing applying for early acceptance (sometimes called conditional acceptance). An applicant's admission category can affect admission requirements and specifics of the application process, including deadlines.
It is therefore essential that prospective students consult the available admissions resources of the particular institution they are applying to. These resources include the Admissions Office, Registrar's Office and online undergraduate university or college Calendar. The Calendar is not the kind that charts the days of the year: a course Calendar is a comprehensive handbook detailing the content of every program, including admissions and application requirements.
Application Content: Most university and college applications consist of two main parts. The general application often involves downloading an institution's online undergraduate application form and submitting it either by post or electronically. This step also usually includes submitting a non-refundable application fee (between $50- $100) which must be received by the institution before their particular deadline. Alternately, some provinces require that students send the initial application through their provincial university application centre website, with supporting documents later sent directly to the institution by the specified deadline.
Because most university and college programs have a minimum admission average and specific course requirements, the main supporting documents are official high school transcripts (or any post-secondary transcripts, if relevant). Additionally, letters of reference, letter of intent, résumé, proof of English proficiency, medical form, criminal record check, etc. may be required, as specified by a particular institution or program. Applicants whose first language is not English may be required to provide an acceptable TOEFL score or complete the institution's entrance exam.
The deadline for supporting documents is generally several months after the general application date. Final offers of admission are made after all final documents arrive, including official transcripts. This means mid-summer for most programs accepting new students.